Modern combat aircraft are technologically complex, require huge investment to manufacture, and ultimately rely on traditional high production runs to achieve lifetime cost reductions. So how can the UK’s defence industry compete in this global market and maintain a sovereign strategic production capability given these traditional barriers to entry?

This is the challenge confronted by the University of Nottingham’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing, where Director, Professor Svetan Ratchev, led a team that has taken a radical new systems approach to the question of cost-effective manufacturing of complex, high-value products at low volumes. This inter-disciplinary research programme analysed the systems, technologies, controls and even human psychology of complex production. Building on the institute’s expertise in precision manufacturing, the team’s research has led to the development of next-generation manufacturing systems known as Evolvable Assembly Systems (EAS) capable of self-adapting to changing requirements which range from material variation to wholesale changes in processes and products in a way that is predictable, measured and responsive.

EAS has led to the university collaborating with BAE Systems on an Integrated Autonomous Assembly Demonstrator which validated the cost-effective production of aircraft in single assembly stations rather than production lines. By removing the economies of scale barrier, the demonstrator supports the development of the Tempest Future Combat Air System, announced by the UK Government in 2018, with BAE Systems using the EAS to help develop a ‘Factory of the Future’ at its Warton site.



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